Additional profile information on Alfred Thompson at Google+
Do you write computer programs for fun? Many of the best teachers I have known “do what they teach” for fun and not just because it is part of their job. I knew a math teacher who factored Prime numbers in his head and really got a kick out of the fact that his license plate was a six digit Prime. Just about every art teacher I have ever known spent a lot of their free time creating art. You probably know an English teacher who is working on the next great American novel or a collection of poetry in their spare time. And what about the History teacher who spends their summer vacation visiting historical sites? I know a science teacher who moonlights as a professional meteorologist. Their love of their discipline makes what they teach more than just a job. Do you think this enthusiasm is noticed by their students? Of course it is. It’s part of what makes them great teachers.
My friend Tom Indelicato is a great high school computer science teacher who happens to really like to write code. And he’s good at it too. He writes about a recent project at his blog. There was a need for some software at his school. Not a particularly complicated piece of software but it had to be easy to use, reliable and meet the needs of the business of the school. The school had tried a trial version of some software that almost met their needs. Tom could have just suggested that the school buy a full version of the software and things would have been ok. Not great but OK. And Tom would not have had to do any work on the project at all. But Tom likes to write code so he wrote a program that really meets the schools needs. A case study he can use with his students? Possibly. But clearly the process he went though as he developed this program in his spare time can easily serve as an example to his students. But more than that Tom’s students can see the love he has for the field.
BTW Tom also likes to write game programs in his spare time. He’s my kind of teacher.
Do your students see your love for the subject in you? How?
The other day the local Microsoft Technology Center played host to a group of students from the John D O'Bryant school from Boston. Our MTCs as we call them are real centers of high technology where Microsoft technical experts work with our customers to create "proof of concept" code for difficult software and systems projects. There is an impressive amount of technology in place including enough computers to require reinforcing the floor under the computer room.
Over the last couple of months the MTC has had a number of school visits though. It's been a chance for us at Microsoft to talk a bit about careers in the computer industry, explain a bit about where Microsoft fits in the business, and generally be a part of the community supporting the educational process. As part of the last couple of visits I've had a role in demonstrating some software and hardware in the case of some robots I demonstrated for one group. It's gotten me in front of groups of students again.
I must say that I really enjoy talking to students. Now some of my friends would say that I like talking to any audience and they wouldn't really be wrong. But there is something special about talking to students. Sure students can be difficult at times and there are times when it is hard to hold their attention. But in general I find that students really want to learn. They welcome the chance to ask questions, especially questions they think will put an adult on the spot, but that is what education is all about isn’t it? I miss that interaction with students. I miss hearing the questions. I miss hearing the "wow" when some new concepts clicks in their head. I miss the students in the classroom.
Over the last year I have spent a lot of time talking to groups of teachers and other adults. That has been very rewarding. But I think that one of my goals for next school year is going to try to maximize the number of student groups I talk to. I love computer science. I’d like to try to get more students excited about the possibilities and maybe help them to catch some of my enthusiasm. I can’t be everywhere though. I’m hoping to get other software and computer professionals into some classrooms in other parts of the country. Maybe we can as a profession get more kids excited about what we are doing. I think we owe it to the kids to try.